Imaginations and dinosaurs run wild at the Fisher

By |2014-03-13T09:00:00-04:00March 13th, 2014|Entertainment, Theater|

By Amy J. Parrent

It’s not every day you get to pet a baby Dryosaur, admire the big peaceful hulk of a dino called Titanosaur or face down the fearsome T-Rex. But that’s the excitement in the Fisher Theatre show “Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live,” an interactive prehistoric adventure.
It’s like a safari tour through ancient Australia, starring extraordinarily real creatures brought to life on stage by talented puppeteers. Members of the audience observe and interact with a menagerie of insects, mammals and, of course, dinosaurs like those that inhabited the Southern Hemisphere millions of years ago.
“We bring five to six children onstage, as well as an adult volunteer,” said one of the show’s puppeteers, Anthony Orifice. “We also go into the crowd.”
Sound effects are created via built-in MP3 players as well as microphones inside the larger creatures. Orifice said the puppeteer can make a sad or angry noise, which is fed through electronic distortion, helping the puppeteer convey the animal’s mood.
The cast of five includes host Aimee Louisanne and four “wranglers,” puppeteers Hallie Goodman, Kelley Selznick, Orifice and a swing, Jackson Eather.
Maybe the only thing better than watching the creatures come to life is getting to play them onstage, and to have the job title “Wrangler/Hero Puppeteer.” (Hero puppeteers are those who are actually inside the larger featured creatures.)
It’s a good gig for someone who started out in the biz playing a styrofoam bowling pin. Orifice, a 25-year-old Long Island native, first got into puppetry after college when he landed a mascot gig promoting a Times Square bowling alley.
“I was the anthropomorphized ‘Pinny,'” he said. “I found out I liked doing it, liked interacting with people. I wanted to find out more about puppetry. I thought if I can wear a cheap piece of foam and play a bowling pin, what could I do with a higher level of puppetry.”
He then got a gig at a dinosaur park in Secaucus, New Jersey, operating various hand puppets and the T-Rex hero puppet.
“Puppetry is one of the oldest forms of performance,” said Orifice. “Before language, cavemen used rocks and sticks to act out the hunt. It (puppetry) deserves its time on the national stage.”
Similar to other such shows of recent years (such as “War Horse,” which played the Fisher earlier this season), the wrangler/puppeteers are visible to the audience.
Orifice said that Scott Wright, co-founder and artistic director of the company that created the show, “wants to foster knowledge of puppetry, too. We want kids in the audience to look at it as not-real, to wonder ‘How does it work’ from an engineering point of view.”
Despite this attempt to encourage understanding that it’s simply make-believe, the show can occasionally be a little too real to some of the youngest audience members. “A couple of theaters we played in Florida had to change some seat cushions after the show,” Orifice said.
And although they’re certainly not trying to frighten their youngest fans, he said, “As a performer, if you scare them you are doing your job. Your puppet is so real.”
But he stresses, the show is about “empowering children, to let them know the show is for them, to make it special, the best day of their life.”
And does he ever encounter a young know-it-all who challenges the show’s accuracies? In a word, yes. Orifice who himself was obsessed with dinos as a kid, said, “I can tell the kids today know more. With all the scientific research that’s been done the past 10 to 15 years, kids will know more than I did at that age.”
But he stresses, “The sheer wonderment of the show” is not just for the youngest set.
“Some of the adults who attend are just as amazed as the children,” he said. “After one show I talked to a 70-year-old woman who was in love with the triceratops. I have yet to see a child as excited as she was.”
He has his own reasons to be excited about playing the D. Detroit is the home of an active puppeteer community, and he looks forward to meeting members here, as well as possibly visiting the puppet collection at the DIA.
And then there’s this: “I’m a Red Wings fan,” said Orifice. “I collect Red Wings memorabilia. I grew up during the ’90s, watching Steve Yzerman, Federov, McCarty, Lidstrom. I own Cleary and Helm jerseys. If it’s still cold in Detroit next week, I’ve got my Red Wings jerseys to keep me warm.”

‘Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live’
Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. March 12 – 16: Wednesday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday and Friday matinees at 11:30 a.m.; Saturday matinees at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 p.m. & 5 p.m. Babes in arms not admitted to this event. The show runs between 45 – 75 minutes with no intermission. $19-39. 313-872-1000.

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.